Sunday, December 28, 2008

Happy New Year

“In a wireless world, personal contact takes a back seat.” - Thomas Friedman. We have become too reliant on technology communication tools 24/7 to connect with people. We need to revert back to when we were kids and allocate the time needed to forge strong interpersonal relationships.

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I would like to share a little story to help kick in the New Year. I was sitting in a playground in Cannes, when I witnessed four little girls of different ethnic backgrounds playing. One was French with a doll & doll carriage; there were Brazilian twins and an Asian tag along. They set up an imaginary house under the slide and began cavorting around the playground, each taking turns pushing the doll carriage. For that short span of time they were totally connected. No cell phones, no computer, no Crackberries, etc. The language differences were not a barrier. The playground transformed them into their own personal Global Village.

My point? Today thanks to all our technology to stay connected, we have actually become disconnected in the process. Reminds me of a great New York Times op-ed that I read years ago by Thomas Friedman titled Taxi Driver. Friedman wrote –
“Technology is dividing us as much as uniting us. Yes, technology can make the far feel near. But it can also make the near feel very far. We’re so accessible, we’re inaccessible. We can’t find the off switches on our devices or on ourselves.”

I advocate that what is getting diluted thanks to our wireless world is our ability to truly connect with people. We are so engrossed with all our technological toys, that we don’t allocate the time, the incubation period needed to forge strong interpersonal relationships. We all talk about being networked, but how many people are we truly linked to in our network beyond their contact information? Maybe it is time to take a break from our 24/7 connectedness and revert back to the days when we were kids. The days we played more freely utilizing our best playground kid skills. By doing so, we will become more connected to one another, thus have more fun as we cavort in our network.

Bonne année.

Thursday, December 18, 2008


Innovation in the foodservice industry has been minimal because organizations continue to do the same old thing. One way the industry can cure its stale thinking is to practice deconstruction. Organizations need to tear themselves apart and begin reconstructing key elements.

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Back in April 2008 I addressed the topic of “Morph Marketing” in a Nation’s Restaurant News opinion piece. I advocated that marketers have been developing business plans the same old way, year after year after year. As a result, the foodservice industry has witnessed minimal innovation. Now I am beginning to realize there is a greater symptom for the lack of innovation. Organizations in total are stale because every internal department is doing the same old thing. Time to steal a page from the philosopher, Jacques Derrida. Practice deconstruction. Derrida believed:
Every structure that organizes our experience is constituted and maintained by exclusion. In the process of creating something, something inevitably gets left out. Exclusive structures become repressive, thus take things apart and reconstruct.

English, English. Blow your organization up and start over from scratch. Okay, maybe that is totally unrealistic, but a good place to start is to answer the three tough questions detailed below:

Who are we? Better known as a positioning statement that identifies your company’s target audience, frame of reference and point of difference.

What do we want to be when we grow up? Answering this question is a team effort that should reflect your company’s vision communicated in a clear, concise statement so everyone beats to the same drum.

How are we going to get there? Once again a team effort that will best describe the principles and guiding values your company will exercise to achieve its vision. In laymen’s terms, your company’s mission statement.

Trust me, once your organization has re-examined its positioning, vision and mission statements, your team will be re-energized and the innovative juices will start flowing again.

Time to reconstruct.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Show Me The Buzz

Buzz marketing is like a virus that changes to meet the challenge of a new environment. There are three distinct stages: inoculation, incubation, infection – the final stage enables the widespread usage of a product/service amongst the mainstream.

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Last week I brushed off the dust on an old speech, “Show Me The Buzz”, that I debuted back in 2006 at the National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show. Buzz marketing is a topic about which I am extremely passionate. Anytime I have an opportunity to present the speech, I get very excited, especially to a new crowd that affords me the prospects of expanding my business network. Last night the audience at Philadelphia’s Independence Visitors Center (
was composed of members of the Greater Philadelphia Chapter of HSMAI (Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International).

When I address buzz marketing principles, I draw metaphor to a virus. True buzz is like a virus that changes to meet the challenge of a new environment. There are three distinct stages: inoculation, or the introduction of a product; incubation, or the use of the product by a few innovative trendsetters; and infection, or the widespread usage of the product amongst the mainstream. I then provide actual case studies to further drill down my point as it relates to viral marketing, the popular term that is often used in lieu of buzz marketing.

One of my personal favorite case studies is Jones Soda ( Vancouver native Peter Van Stolk, a former ski instructor, founded the innovative Seattle-based company originally in 1987. In recognition that Jones soda did not have the deep pockets or distribution network similar to the mega beverage companies, Stolk positioned his company as the anti-Coke alternative. He introduced non-traditional flavors (e.g., Blue Bubble Gum, FuFu Berry, Jelly Doughnut) and decided to utilize a viral marketing campaign to build a cult following. Inoculation began when Stolk’s team drove across the country in two RV’s distributing free sodas to teenagers in malls and schoolyards. They also placed signature coolers in surf shops, bike shops, and tattoo parlors, even bookstores that targeted the younger, non-traditional crowd who favored extreme lifestyles. This strategy added to the brand’s mystique. Incubation followed when the company via its website made an emotional connection with its consumers by soliciting photos for customized labeling on their bottles. Bam! Revenues reached $39 million by 2006 – the viral infection was in place. In 2007, Jones decided to introduce a line of canned soft drinks to Target and Wal-Mart, a move that placed them in direct competition with Coca-Cola and Pepsi.

Sound good? Not really. All sorts of problems ensued – production, distribution and finance. The company did not have the infrastructure to compete with all the beverage brands stocked on the supermarket shelves in America. Stolk stepped down as CEO and was replaced by the former Coca-Cola CMO Stephen Jones who is still trying to stop the financial hemorrhaging of Stolk’s grandiose expansion plan.

I share this story, because it is a classic example of how a viral infection can backfire if a company does not take timeout to plan accordingly for rampant growth. I compliment Peter Van Stolk as a true innovator two-fold: A.) He benchmarked outside the beverage industry by looking at what worked in fashion, sports, music, etc. to take the beverage industry by storm; and B.) He listened to his customers, thus connected with his customers. What he failed to do was create the infrastructure needed to continue Jones Soda’s run as a leading alternative beverage company. In my next posting, I will address a process called Deconstruction, which is a potential solution for companies that find themselves in a similar position to Jones Soda.